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Confessing to a Crime you Didn’t Commit

September 17th, 2010

Eddie Lowery

Eddie Lowery spent 10 years in prison after confessing to a rape he did not commit. He got a $7.5 million settlement.

It’s a dirty little secret of the criminal justice system: People sometimes confess to crimes they didn’t commit.

While it may seem counterintuitive, the complexities of human psychology–coupled with  police interrogation tactics– sometimes result in false confessions.  According to a recent study by Brandon Garrett, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law, more than 40 people gave confessions that were later proved to be false by DNA evidence.   A recent article in the New York Times explores Professor Garrett’s study and it’s implications.  It’s worth reading.

Those who have studied the issue almost uniformly conclude that the only way to guard against the danger of false confessions is to require the police to videotape their interrogations.  That way, judges and juries will be able to see for themselves the circumstances of confessions and determine their reliability.  Some jurisdictions have already passed laws requiring this.  Florida, unfortunately, has not.

So, what do you think?  Could you ever imagine confessing to something you didn’t do?  Do you think this is a problem that needs to be addressed?  Share your thoughts in the comments.

4 Responses to “Confessing to a Crime you Didn’t Commit”

  1. David: Just like you can twist statistics to tell just about any story you want, you can also do the same with words. I am leaning toward the video tape interrogations. Chilling.

  2. According to Innocence Project, the young and/or emotionally unstable are the most prone to confessing to a crime they didn’t commit, so it follows that videotaping interrogations protects vulnerable populations, and should be easy to enact, should the new Innocence Commission ever get around to recommending it.

    They decided to focus first on eyewitness misidentification, while admitting that NC’s Innocence Panel already spent two years on it and that FL’s photo array and lineup procedures have improved to the point of making misidentification an insignificant factor in preventing future wrongful convictions, which is the stated purpose of the Commission.

    In both gentlemen’s presence, an attorney from McCollum’s office said that James Bain’s and Alan Crotzer’s accountings of their wrongful convictions to the Commission were one-sided and “self-serving.” It’s going to be a bumpy road, as as well as a long road, and likely leading nowhere unless public unrest redirects the conversation.

  3. I agree with both of you.: 1) Video taped interrogations are a ‘no brainer;” and 2) until the issue gains traction with people nothing is likely to happen. Thank G-d McCollum is on his way out!

  4. Florida needs to make several changes. Video tapeing interrogations is a start, let’s not stop there lets video tape any police questions or interactions with citizens.

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